|Dantes Many Peaks|
by Brent Roske
Oh, how I love the smell of chlorine and lip- stick in the morning.
The place: Venice High School. Why? Glee, the teenage Fox juggernaut, is filming — of all things — a water ballet number. Water ballet, Venice, underwater bikini girls... Where do I sign up?
This is what producer PGA member Dante Di Loreto does for a living. He takes images from the page and puts them on the screen, more specifically, translating the ideas of Ryan Murphy and giving them wings. The wish list today is pretty ambitious: have the main cast on a "floaty” in the middle of a pool, surrounded by underwater ballet dancers. As I sit for a while and watch a few takes, I have an odd feeling... Techno-crane, dolly and track, another cam on sticks, Eric Stolz directing (I’ve always liked him as an actor, but after watching him direct this scene and stay as calm as warm butter in July, I’m pretty sure he’s the coolest guy in Hollywood) and the playback over and over with Rihanna’s "We Fell in Love in a Hopeless Place.” But this doesn’t look like a hopeless place and the cast doesn’t look hopeless at all. They’re wearing the biggest smiles that a human face is capable of. Venice High School has been transformed into a bastion of classic cinema spectacle and water-flinging high kicks. It all feels absolutely and quintessentially Hollywood. Making it even more surreal for me is that Glee mainstay Dianna Agron was in a short I directed years ago and is now lip-synching her little head off. Gotta love showbiz.
The ’90s were a transitional period for Di Loreto. Considering his timeline on IMDb, you can see how his acting career finally ground to a halt. After playing ‘Emcee’ on an episode of Cheers in 1991, nothing posts for almost the entire decade. That puts Dante firmly in the ‘scrappy and committed’ category. In 1994, however, a very interesting project pops up called Waving, Not Drowning. It’s a short film, and the project has Di Loreto listed as the producer. (This might be a good time to re-read last issue’s "When Short Is Long Enough” about how a short film can launch your producing career.) This small project put Di Loreto on the path of the producer ... the long, lonely, challenging, rewarding, brutal (stop me if you’ve felt all these this week), exciting road of the PRODUCER. And once he got on track, he gained momentum — real big crazy momentum — quickly.
In 1999, he produced Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, star- ring his former Gotcha! cast mate and future producing partner, Anthony Edwards. More credits followed, including an Emmy win for HBO’s Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes. Now Dante is producing not one, but two hit TV shows for partner-in-crime Ryan Murphy: Glee and the much-buzzed-about American Horror Story. Here’s a quick interview with a very busy guy:
What are the challenges of producing two shows at once?
The two shows couldn’t be more different, and each has its unique challenges. Time is in short supply for both, each produced with very tight schedules. It can be a real mental scramble switching between them several times a day, but creative problem solving is the most exciting aspect of producing, and nothing is more invigorating then walking from Stage 16, where we are staging a full-cast musical sequence, to Stage 6, where we are burning Dennis O’Hare to a crisp.
What is the creative ‘connective tissue’ between American Horror Story and Glee?
Hopefully, each show is expanding the creative horizon of television. Both shows cause conversation and reflect current issues ... fidelity, faith, sexuality, family. Regardless how extreme the situation, the characters struggle with very human dilemmas which any audience can relate to. Your daughter may not be dating a serial killer, but you may have legitimate concerns about her boyfriend.
Has there ever been a time that creative has come to you with an idea that you couldn’t accommodate?
Happily, I have never had to say ‘we can’t do that’ to the creative team. We have had some enormous challenges with both shows as each has a very tight delivery schedule (the AHS finale wrapped nine days before air), but producing them in Los Angeles means access to the greatest artisans and crafts people working in television, so regardless if it’s choreographing a water ballet or eviscerating corpses, we find a way to get the job done.
What was your path to your current position?
I came to series television after producing long-form television, independent film and Broadway. Series television is uniquely challenging. It happens fast and once you commence, there is no stopping to catch your breath. You are never doing one thing at a time, so ADD can actually be an asset. Scheduling demands mean we may often be shooting multiple units, so between prep, production and post on the two shows, we may be juggling eight episodes simultaneously.
What still surprises you in regards to the show or the biz?
Happily, I’m surprised every day. Particularly on Glee, where we are often doing something never done before, so no one can tell us we’re doing it wrong.
Is being an executive producer of one of the biggest shows on TV what you thought it would be?
It’s impossible to judge how this work will resonate over time. You hope you are crafting something which will endure creatively. It’s also good business for an asset to retain value in the long term. I’m blessed to work with the greatest creative minds in television and it is never, ever boring.
The most inspiring moment of your career so far?
Watching 100 middle school students in the Bronx perform Lady Gaga. When a parent thanks me for an episode which addresses issues not seen on any other program. And watching Jessica Lange rehearse a scene is the greatest master class you could ever hope to attend.
Whatever excites Ryan Murphy’s imagination. I am fortunate to work with one of the greatest creative minds working in any format.
In your opinion, what are the qualities that every producer should possess?
Patience — great things sometimes require great timing, and finding success may mean knowing when to wait. Perseverance — new ideas are not always the most popular. When Temple Grandin was nominated for 15 Emmys, my producing partner, Anthony Edwards, called and said, "Remember how easy it was to set up a movie about a middle-aged woman who saw the world through the eye of a cow?” Listening — this is the hardest to practice, but most questions answer themselves. A Teflon-coated ego — allowing others to enjoy the success of your labor doesn’t cost a thing.
Watch Dante Di Loreto’s work on American Horror Story when it returns for a second season on FX; Glee airs on FOX right now. Though his work is broadcast by the Fox family of stations, Dante seems to embody one of Walt Disney’s most memorable lines: "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Good luck out there!
Brent Roske is currently in pre-production on the feature Alice Stands Up, starring Sally Kirkland, and would love to direct an episode of one of Dante’s shows. He’s also very subtle.